The 2011 are right around the corner, and are sure to be the most competitive NBA Playoffs we’ve seen in years. While the 2nd round and beyond, are the rounds everyone’s anticipating, there are a few things we need to be on the look-out for. Here are 10 of them…
1st Round Upsets
1. The New York Knicks vs. The Boston Celtics
How can this happen, you ask? Simply put, Youth and Hunger. The Knicks are considerably younger, and faster than their Boston Counterparts. The running style that they live by, is the exact opposite type of game that the C’s want to get in to. Yes the Knicks have had their struggles versus the Celtics this season, but have also had their moments. When their backs were against the wall, their closer showed up. Carmelo Anthony put the team on his back on multiple occasions, and performed like the star that he is. These are the leadership qualities that I spoke of before, that are there, just inconsistent. If Melo can maintain that drive, and killer instinct throughout the series; The Celtics are in Trouble. Now the likelihood of an upset isn’t in the Knicks’ favor. However, the Celtics haven’t been the same team since the Perkins trade, and are injured across the board. The funny thing about this series is that the Knicks lack that “Inside Toughness,” but then again, so do the Celtics. Yes of course KG is still the backbone of the team, but then what? You have an old and injured Shaq, who’s paired with another old and injured Jermaine O’neal. Either way, the Knicks will make a series vs. ANYONE they play this year; you can put money on that!
2. The Orlando Magic vs. The Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks owned the Orlando Magic this year. Taking 3 games out of 4, the Hawks are going into this series with a huge amount of confidence. Another plus on the side of Atlanta, is the fact that Dwight Howard has already exceeded his allotted amount of Technical Fouls. With each two techs that Howard receives, he’ll now miss a game. A Howard-less Magic Team, is a major positive for Atlanta. Both teams are loaded with talent, and can each operate well in a run-and-gun style of play. However, if the game slows down at all, this favors Orlando. Atlanta has yet to take that next step as a team, so this season is the perfect opportunity to make that come to fruition.
3. The Dallas Mavericks vs. The Memphis Grizzlies or The Portland Trail Blazers
This Just In…The Grizzlies are in the Playoffs, oh and uhh, they’re 3-1 vs. The Mavericks. With all the hype surrounding the Eastern Conference, San Antonio, OKC, and uh yeah, that team in L.A., no one’s paid any attention to the Grizzlies. Granted two of the wins by the Grizz were only by a combined two points, they aren’t lacking for confidence versus the Mavs. Out of all of the match-ups in the playoffs, this upset isn’t very likely, but will make for a great story if it does happen. The loss of Rudy Gay will be what is likely to destroy the hopes of Memphis in this series.
The series between the Blazers and Mavs was split at 2 games apiece. The Blazers are very equipped to win this series, which would no doubt, send Mark Cuban into a tailspin. The loss of Caron Butler is a major setback for Dallas, as he is their best perimeter defender, and resident “Tough Guy.” This series could come down to Brandon Roy’s availability, and performance throughout. Roy was held out of several games, and monitored closely in others, in preparation for the playoffs. In other words, the Mavs better hope they’re able to hold onto that #2 seed.
The Emergence Of…
4. Derrick Rose!
The Chicago Bulls are for real ladies and gentlemen! Derrick Rose exemplifies all that is right about sports. Rose was criticized for not having a jump-shot…well you can now check that off. Rose has carried the Bulls all the way to the #1 seed in the East, and just shy of the overall #1 seed in the entire playoffs. The Bulls will make quick work of the Pacers, and will likely get some rest, as the Hawks vs. Magic is sure to go 5 to 7 games. I don’t expect the Bulls to have any major drop-off from the regular season, so a birth in the Eastern Conference Finals looks very likely. If the Bulls do reach the ECF, Rose would have elevated himself to possibly the best Point Guard in the NBA, if he hasn’t done that already. But a birth in the Finals, to go with an expected MVP Trophy…Wow!
5. The Heatles!
All the nay-sayers, all the critics, all the rumors will be put to bed sooner than we thought. I knew the Heat had the talent to make it to the Finals this season, but all the ups and downs, and lack of cohesion throughout the season, I didn’t expect it to happen. However, the Heat are clicking on all cylinders right now, and are poised to make a strong push throughout the playoffs. With a tough challenge in the second round awaiting them, home-court advantage may be exactly what they need. The Heat also have their own closer, in Dwayne Wade, whose play always elevates in the playoffs. Given Boston’s rash of injuries, and the Knicks’ inability to play consistent defense, I fully expect to see the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, with a very strong chance to go further.
6. The Oklahoma City Thunder
The trade for Kendrick Perkins sealed the deal for the Thunder. They now have the size, athleticism, and toughness down low, to match up well versus both San Antonio, and the defending champion Lakers. The Thunder is looking like a very complete team, and are my pick to upset the San Antonio Spurs in this year’s playoffs. Russell Westbrook is another Point Guard that’s elevated his play, and will put himself into the best Point Guard Convo, if the Thunder can go far in the playoffs. It’s also on record, that the Thunder were the team that played the Lakers, the toughest in the Western Conference last season. With that experience under their belt, a new team structure, and the electrifying tandem of Westbrook and Durant, I expect a lot from OKC. While I don’t expect them to unseat the Lakers in the WCF, This Season, I do expect it to happen Next Year!
What Happens If…
7. The Orlando Magic loses to the Hawks in the 1st Round?
This will have a huge effect on the future of the franchise. Heading into Free Agency the following summer, Dwight Howard will be hit with a bevy of rumors. He’s stated that winning is his most important goal. However, Howard’s also gone on record saying he is interested in playing for the Lakers one day. It should also be noted that the Lakers have a young big man in Andrew Bynum, which would surely be an acceptable component to a Howard deal next season. Also not to be forgotten, are the New Jersey soon-to-be, Brooklyn Nets. Deron Williams has said that he’d like to play alongside Howard, and Howard shares the same affliction with the possibility of playing with Williams. One thing’s for sure; if the Magic are out in the 1st round…Look for Melo-Drama Part Two, Starring Dwight Howard, Next Season!
8. The Hornets lose to the Spurs in the 1st Round?
This isn’t a matter of IF, but When, the Hornets lose. Yeah the series was tied 2-2, but let’s be honest here…The Hornets just don’t have the personnel to upset the Spurs. Chris Paul is arguably the best Point Guard in the League, but he can’t do it by himself. The Spurs have a list of injuries, but also the playoff experience to make quick work of New Orleans. So if the Hornets are expected to lose, what’s the discussion about? The hot topic thenshifts to where will Chris Paul be playing in the near future. Similar to Howard, Paul is set to hit the Free Agent Market next summer, and will be the most sought after Point Guard in the league. Deron Williams will also be in that Free Agent class, but seems likely to resign in New Jersey, pending their future additions. Paul will play the good guy, and claim he wants to remain in New Orleans…Uhh, yeah right! Does anyone recall that toast that Paul made at Carmelo Anthony’s Wedding? Here’s a hint…Big 3, Orange & Blue, Madison Square Garden!
Backpedaling Into The Tournament
9. What happens to the defending Conference Champions?
The Lakers and Celtics are stumbling into the playoffs this season…but then again, what’s new? Aren’t these the same two teams that everyone said the same things about, last season? The bottom line is that, these are two teams that have won the last 3 NBA Titles, and they know what’s at stake. Does this mean both are guaranteed to meet again…No! But, I do expect the Lakers to make a run at a third NBA Title in a row. Had this been the same Celtics team that began the season, I’d say the C’s would be right there. However, the trade, injuries, and overall team age, may have caught up to Boston. The 1st round matchup versus a very dangerous Knickerbockers team doesn’t help either.
NBA Finals Prediction
10. When it’s all said and done…Who gets the W?
When it’s all over, I expect the Lakers to defend their title against…The Miami Heat. A series that is sure to go 7 games, it’s very difficult to pick a winner. My instinct is to go with the Heat. But, a Heat victory depends on a few things. If there are several close games between the two teams, and anyone other than Dwayne Wade takes the last second shots…the Lakers Win. Also, the Heat will need to trust the game that got them there, if not…the Lakers Win. The Finals aren’t the time for a team to implode, and if there’s a team in this series that it happens to, it’s the Heat. The Lakers are not only the defending champions, but they are a complete team. Outside of “The Heatles,” Miami’s a lottery team. I expect the experience factor to be the deciding edge in this series, and the Lakers send Phil Jackson off into the sunset, with his 3rd 3-Peat.
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